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Jeanne Cannizzo 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2013 





Into the Heart of Africa is published in conjunction with 

the exhibition of the same name, which will be on view at 

the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, from 

16 November 1989 to 6 August 1990. 

The exhibition will then travel to 

the Canadian Museum of Civilization (summer 1991), 

the Vancouver Museum (fall 1991), 

the Natural History Museum of 

Los Angeles County (spring 1992), 

and the Albuquerque Museum (summer 1992). 

Into the Heart of Africa is organized and circulated by 

the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada, 

with the generous support of 

Imperial Oil Limited and Nabisco Brands Ltd, Canada. 

Imperial Oil (Ssso 


The Royal Ontario Museum gratefully acknowledges 

the financial assistance of the Ontario 
Ministry of Citizenship— Multiculturalism Strategy. 

The Royal Ontario Museum is an agency of 
the Ontario Ministry of Culture and Communications. 





Jeanne Cannizzo 



© Royal Ontario Museum, 1989 
ISBN 0-88854-350-6 

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data 

Royal Ontario Museum. 
Into the heart of Africa 

Catalogue to accompany an exhibition held Nov. 16, 
1989-July 29, 1990 at the Museum. 
Includes bibliographical references. 
ISBN 0-88854-350-6 

1. Art, African - Exhibitions. 2. Art, African - 
Collectors and collecting - Ontario - History - 
Exhibitions. 3. Royal Ontario Museum - Exhibitions. 
I. Cannizzo, Jeanne, 1947- . II. Title. 

N7380.5.R69 1989 709'.6'o740ii354i C89-094784-8 

Cover: Detail of Mongo dancer from Zaire, photographed by the 
Reverend A. W. Banfield probably sometime between 1915 and 1930. 
(Photo: Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift of the A. W. Banfield 

Editing: Barbara Ibronyi 
Design: Virginia Morin 
Production: Lorna Hawrysh 
Exhibition logo: Susan Nagy 

Typesetting by Trigraph Inc. 

Separations and halftones by Legg Bros. Graphics Limited 

Printed and bound in Canada at General Printers 


Acknowledgements 7 

MapofAfrica 8 

Introduction lo 

I he Imperial Connection 14 

For ( iow n and Hmpiiv 18 

Captain John! Crean, Imperial Officer ig 

I ieutenani Frederick Hamilton, War C orrespondant 25 

In I ivingstone's Footsteps 30 

rhe Reverend Waltei I 1 urrie, Canada's Livingstone ^ 

I he Reverend A. W. Banfield, Photographer 48 

Decoding Collections (12 

Epilogue Q2 

Selected Bibliography 93 


My own journe) through the exhibition and tins book has been made 
both more ex< iting and easier b) working w ith Brian Boyle, Jo Breyfogel, 
Ami Brownstone, Marianne Collins, Judith ( selenyi, 1 ory Drusian, 
Julia Fenn, David Fujiwara, Mar) Hayes, Brian I logarth, Margaret Anne 

Know Irs. 1 lelen KilgOUT, Santiago Ku, Lynne Kurylo, Mostyn Lloyd, Julia 
Matthews, Allan Met oil, Brian Musselwhite, Susan Nagy, Trudy Nicks, 
Pauline O'Brien, Roll' Seifert, Steven Spencer, and Margo Welch. 

I am also most grateful to the following departments in the Royal 
Ontario Museum Publication Services; the Office ol the Associate Dire< 
tor, Exhibits; the Office ol the Associate Director, Curatorial; the Public 
Relations Department; Exhibit Design Services; and the Library and 
Archives. Many thanks are also due to Edwin A. Goodman, the i hairman 
ol the Museums Board ol trustees during the planning and organization 
ol the exhibition 

Most of all I want to thank David A.T. Stafford, without whom I might 
never have gone to Africa, as well as the people ol Sierra Leone, whose 
artful performances almost convinced me never to leave. 






























Lwena (Lovale) 




















Sokoto Caliphate 























Sierra ^ 

Ca~\ Coast 

9> \ \os 

* |«| 27 


c / 22 Nigeria 


6 f 



rican Republic 

Equalonal i 

' Zaire R 

Guinea I 

I — b) 

Gabon i 






Uganda/ Kenya 





10 (% 
Zambia ^\j§>. 







Swaziland J 
lesoinc 29 . 



TXJ' ""D (^T^T T(^"T T(^)T\I Anthropology is frequently described as a kind of dialogue between the 

ethnographic other and the cultural self. This characterization is meant, 
among other things, to suggest the "fictional" nature of anthropology, for 
the work is generated in the interaction of the anthropologist's own cul- 
tural preconceptions and ideological assumptions with those of the 
people among whom he or she works. As such, the dialogue reveals some- 
thing of the other as well as the self. 

This description also conjures up the basic method of gathering 
anthropological data in the field: observing what people do, taking part 
when possible and appropriate, and talking with them about their beliefs 
and ideas. These were the kinds of conversations, or anthropological 
dialogues, I myself had in Sierra Leone, where I did research on children's 
street masquerades. But when I turned to the African collections of the 
Royal Ontario Museum, the people who had made and used the objects 
were no longer alive. Nor were the Canadian military men and mis- 
sionaries who had collected the artifacts. 

Yet as I spent hour upon hour in the Museum storeroom, those 
dialogues seemed to emerge from the masks, baskets, sculptures, and 
beadwork in which they had been embodied for generations. Such 
conversations may be conducted on many planes, across space and 
through time. An examination of this Epa mask from Nigeria provides the 
opportunity to try to hear a few of them. 

The Yoruba speak with their own ancestors and culture heroes and to 
themselves through this kind of mask. During the Epa festival, held every 
two years between March and May, these masks perform to ensure the 
well-being of the community. Each mask is the property of a lineage 
group and marks memorable events in local history, drawing attention to 
outstanding village personalities. At the same time, the totality of the rit- 
ual performance, which often includes several masks, celebrates the cul- 
tural values to which the Yoruba as a nation subscribe. 

The basic form consists of an elaborate superstructure borne by a 
helmet-mask with two faces, one on the front and the other on the back. 
The central male figure in this example wears a large magical hat and is 
flanked by representations of wrought iron staffs hung with bells and of 
antelope horns filled with medicine for procuring ritual power. Before him 
is a square divination board, its upper surface decorated with the face 
of Eshu, the deity who acts as an intermediary, bearing sacrifices to 
the gods. 

These iconographic clues suggest that the figure is a priest of 
Osanyin. the god of herbal medicine, or an Ifa diviner. In everyday prac- 
tice, the priests of Osanyin are not only powerful herbalists but healers of 
the psyche as well. Equally respected are the ritual practitioners who seek 
to use supernatural, wisdom on behalf of their human clients, through the 
Ifa divination system. 

The complete masquerade, with full costume and dance, might be 
considered a choreographed dialogue between the young men who wear 
the masks and the audience. In some communities the dancers are 
required to jump from a small earthmound with the heavy masks. If they 
lose their balance, they risk upsetting the harmony and prosperity of vil- 
lage life for a whole year. Their prowess celebrates the vitality of youth 
and the quickness of the living. 

This sculpture also speaks of the master carver who made it emerge 

12 from a single block of wood, from which he coaxed both the crudity of 

the dancer's helmet-mask and the refinement of the superstructure. 
According to John Picton, a Yoruba specialist, that artist may have been 
Bamgboye of Odo-Owa in the northeastern part of Yoruba territory. Born 
about 1888, he was known for his excellent craftsmanship and the com- 
plexity of his compositions. In any event, the artist has achieved a 
dynamic unity between individual expression, cultural continuity, and 
sculptural integrity, to produce an imposing work. 

Finally, the mask represents a cross-cultural encounter, a conversation 
across cultural boundaries, for it was brought back to Canada by the Rev- 
erend Thomas Titcombe. As a young man he left England and settled in 
Hamilton, Ontario. In 1908 Titcombe joined the Sudan Interior Mission 
bound for Nigeria. There he worked among the Yagba (a Yoruba subgroup) 
for the next twenty-two years, until ill health forced his return home. It is 
not known from whom or exactly when he acquired this mask— whether 
during his long career or on one of two brief return visits in 1942/1943 
and 1948/1949. He did tell his family, however, that it was presented to 
him by an "old witchdoctor" who had converted to Christianity. Titcombe 
kept the mask to remind him of his first days in the mission field and 
the experiences he shared with the Yagba, as their lives intertwined in 
colonial Nigeria. 

The life history of this mask— from ritual object to missionary souve- 
nir and finally to museum specimen— illustrates the transformational 
power of context and suggests that the meaning and significance of an 
object change according to the circumstances in which it appears and is 
understood. That transformational power is particularly evident in muse- 
ums, which, like anthropology, are also essentially "fictional" in their 
nature. The meaning of their collections is generated in the interaction 
between the curator, the object, and the visitor. As such negotiated reali- 
ties, museums are crucial to understanding one's cultural self as well as 
the ethnographic other. 

\ Yagba l.mul\ from the Nigci ian 
town ol Egbe, photographed b) the 
Reverend I homas lit*, ombe in the 
early pan ol the zoth < entui \ (Photo 
c iourtes) ol the I it< ombe family ) 

"Women c arrying water For the 
building ol new 1 gbe ( hurch, a pho- 
tograph from fitcombe's album. 
which was taken in Nigeria in the 
early 20th century (Photo: ( ourtes) 
of the Titcombe family ) 





Queen Victorias jubilee in 1897, marking her sixty years on the throne, 
was extravagantly celebrated at home and throughout her empire. Can- 
ada, as part of that empire, had horizons that were much broader than 
those defined by its own political boundaries. Nor were Canadians mar- 
ginal participants in the empire's triumphs and defeats. As British sub- 
jects, they took an active part in all the opportunities an imperial power 
had to offer individuals in the dominions. 

According to historian James Morris, in his book Pax Britannica, in 
that jubilee year 

there was no exact dividing line between a Canadian Briton and a 
British Briton. Their accents were diverging it is true, but they car- 
ried the same passports and usually honoured the same ideals 

Hundreds of thousands of British Canadians regarded the imperial 
saga as part of their own national heritage. The excitement of the 
New Imperialism was almost as intense in Toronto as it was in 
London. (P. 391) 




t <***£h 


XMAS1898. I 

|.ll.l.V;.l-i l J;IJ l .IJ = IJr.| M. l ll':':| ; |JJ.Ul 

Stamp issued 7 December 1898 to 
commemorate the inauguration of 
imperial penny postage. (Photo: 
Reproduced courtesy of Canada Post 

Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley, at 
the time of the Asante campaign in 
1874. The Illustrated London News, 
28 March 1874. 

Some ol excitement was generated through the populai adoration 
ol the heroes oi the age. I he perfe< t British soldier was personified in 
Major General s n Garnet Wolselej Idolized by the public, he fought 
throughout the empire I lis t areer as an impel Lai c ommander saw him 
leading the Red River expedition against the metis in western ( anada in 
1870, capturing the < apital ol the Vsante kingdom in West Afrk .1 in 1H74, 
and overseeing the subjugation ol the Zulu state in South Africa in 1879. 

Ol equal renown was the Scottish missionary explorer Hi David 
Livingstone, the first European to see the thundering victoria I alls on the 
Zambezi River and several ol the great lakes ol eastern and central Aim a. 
I lis exploits during his thirty years on the continent thrilled the English- 
speaking world and inspired several generations ol ( Canadian missionaries 
to venture into the interior Their vision, like his, was to replace "pagan- 
ism" with Christianity, the slave trade with legitimate commerce, and 

1 > 

laken in 1874 from Kumase, the capital ol the Ksante kingdom, this gold neck- 
lace was des( ribed in an early catalogue entrj as part ol the spoils ol war belong- 
ing to Wokele) \tter his return to England, he presented it to a family friend. 
whose descendants sold it to a benefactor ol the Royal Ontario Museum. 

Necklace, Asante, Ghana, igth century. Gold. Length ^2 cm II V1266 edit ol Mrs 
George A. Sweny. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 


"barbarous" customs with their own form of civilization. Seeking glory on 
spiritual battlefields no less dangerous than the secular ones where Cana- 
dian soldiers fought, many of them paid with their health and lives for 
their beliefs. 

Encountering unfamiliar cultures with worldviews radically different 
from their own, those soldiers and missionaries who returned home 
brought back many souvenirs and trophies of their journeys into the 
heart of Africa. 



yml *) 

« H w \ 

•**&-■ i. M 

No. 1804— vol.. i.xiv. 

SATURDAY, MARCH 21, 1874. 

. SUPPLEMENT! Hi Post, <J(o, 

European troops entering Kumase. The Illustrated London News, 21 March 1874. 

• „. 

Dr. David Livingstone. Heroes oj the 
Dark Continent by J. W, Buel. 

Livingstone's discover) oi Lake 
\\ asa Heroes o/ the Dark Continent 

In | W Bud 

The missionaries desperatel) wanted to destroy the trade in what was sometimes 

called "black ivory" and so to heal what they thought ol as Africa's open sore 
1 hese slave whips were collected in Angola by the Reverend Wilberforce I ee ol 

(."o\\ans\ ille. Quehei 

Whips, Ovimbundu, Angola, collected 1889-1895 Hide Toptobottom lengths 
83 cm, 99 cm. 973.325.22, 973.325.23. Gilt ol Miss Dorothea Bell (Photo 
Santiago Ku) 




The call to serve the empire sounded loudly in the ears of Canadian sol- 
diers, some of whom fought in the "savage little wars" that so marked 
the closing years of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. 
Campaigning against African peoples who resisted the imperial advance 
and sometimes against rival European powers, these soldiers sought to 
extend the Pax Britannica throughout the African colonies claimed by the 
United Kingdom. 

Britain's Bulwarks," imperial forces, 1898. (Photo: Courtesy of the Director, National Army Museum, London, England) 



( hie ol those who fought for ( ton n and I mpire was John V. Crean of 
Toronto. Born in 1858, he joined the Queen's Own Rifles when lie was 
eighteen eventually becoming sergeant majoi A professional soldiei .ill 

his lite, he took part in the campaign against the metis in western ( anad.i 
during the uprising oi 1885. Later, with tJie Gold Coast Regiment oi 
the West African Frontier Force, he led a contingent of Hausa soldiers 
in Ghana 

The Hausa are an Islamicized people living in northern Nigeria, well 
known as both long-distance traders and soldiers. Under the direction of 
British officers, they were widely used as infantry throughout the colonies 
of West Africa. Together Crean and his troops took part in the Asante War 
of 1900. 

The Asante lived in one of the most powerful states in West Africa. A 
wealthy trading empire and political confederacy, the Asante kingdom 
had come into conflict with the British throughout the 19th century. Hav- 
ing suffered a major military defeat in 1874 and the exile of their king in 
1896, the Asante rose again in 1900, after the governor of the British 
Crown Colony of the Gold Coast (now part of Ghana) tried to take pos- 
session of the Golden Stool, which enshrined the soul of the nation. A 
symbolic rather than utilitarian object, it was never actually sat upon. 
Colonial authorities were unsuccessful in their attempt to take the stool, 
but the Asante confederacy ceased to exist after the campaign of 1900 
until it was restored in 1935. 


UOTemor of Gold Coaat Tried 
to Get the Sacred fcmMem 


C««ma»l» H»««»r H»|»«»<« that of 
All the ' kl«-r> <>•!> KIM M 

|«kntl llfiitlal I .....I 

- Acer*. Urltlnh Uold ' >'»■»(. Africa. 
April « — Th* »UuatIon In A»h»ntl If 
Mnchang'd. A Coonuuwle runwr report* 
that ail ihe Aahanll trtbr* ar* In arm*. 
the Kln« of ttakwal aloe* rt-malnlnc 


Headline and introduction to an 
article on the Anglo-Asante War of 
1900. Toronto Daily Mail and Empire, 
9 April 1900. (Photo: Library of the 
University of Toronto) 

)ofin F Crean a*> a young man in the 
Queen's Own Rifles (Photo Archives 
of Ontario) 

Captain John F. Crean and Hausa sol- 
diers, First Battalion, Gold Coast Reg- 
iment, about 1902 in Ghana. (Photo: 
Courtesy of John Gale Crean) 

An artillery officer during operations against the Asante, Crean was 
mentioned in dispatches. He retired from service in Africa, possibly 
because of ill health, to accept an appointment in the Royal Canadian 
Artillery. Crean was a well-known sportsman and had once been a cham- 
pion lightweight boxer, but when he died in 1907 the Toronto Daily Mail 
and Empire of 25 March noted in an obituary headed "West African Expe- 
rience Proves Fatal" that "the torrid climate, every breath of which seems 
laden with poison for the European, completely wrecked his once robust 
constitution." Such a fate was not uncommon for those Canadians who 
travelled overseas in search of what they thought of as adventure, glory, a 
worthy vocation, or a promising career. 

While in Africa, Crean gathered a substantial collection, but left no 
account of his activities. It is unknown if his Asante artifacts were spoils 
of war or acquisitions from the followers of the chief of Bekwae, an 
Asante ruler who chose to ally himself with the British and whose photo- 
graph appears in one of Crean's albums. Not surprisingly, Crean also 
brought home objects from the Africans he commanded. His Hausa col- 
lection, heavily weighted in favour of weapons, clearly reflects that 
people's military reputation. 

One of Clean's helmets for use in West Vfi u .1 is displayed w ith some oi Ins 
Vsante artifa< ts rhe stool, carved from a single piece ol wood, was probabl) F01 
domestic rather than ceremonial use ( rean believed thai the drum belonged to 
.1 1. hiei and was used during wai 

/ e/l to righl 

Stool,Asante, Ghana, collected 
i 1900 Wood Height 33 cm. 
HA 1990 On loan from the Royal 
1 anadian Military Institute, [bronto 
Helmet. England ( 1.900. Cloth, 
leather, wood 

Height 21 cm. 
q8cj 138.3. Gift ol 
Mi |ohn Gale Crean. 
Drum, Asante, Ghana, 

collected c. 1900. Wood, skin, 

fibres. Height 55 cm. HA2040. 

On loan from the Royal 

Canadian Military Institute. 


(Photo: Santiago Ku) 

Pipes, like the one illustrated, are 
carved rather than moulded and were 
sometimes used b) the Vsante as 
grave offerings I he figure is making 
a begging gesture which 1- also asso- 
v i.ited w ith mourning I he small 
Hausa purse was used foi carrying 
the Quran the sacred text ol Islam 

fobaccopipe \sante, Ghana col- 
lectedt 1000 Fired cla) pigmenta- 
tion Height 7.6 cm HA1984 
Quran pouch Hausa Nigeria, col- 
lected >. 1000 1 eather I ength ol 
pouch 10 1 m H \1074 
On loan from the Royal Canadian 
Military Institute, roronto (Photo 
Santiago ku) 

22 Cloth does more than cover the body 
or soften the bed. It can reveal cul- 
tural origins, rank or social standing, 
gender, and sometimes age. The 
colour, texture, and volume of cloth 
can add to the vitality of many public 
occasions and to the intensity of 
more secluded events. This Asante 
cloth from southern Ghana, collected 
by Crean in 1900, was intended as a 
garment, probably for a man. 

Textiles were closely linked to 
social and political hierarchies in this 
area. Thus royal and chiefly cloth 
were of highly valued silk, while tex- 
tiles for commoners were more often 
of cotton. This piece is of cotton and 
was made by a male weaver using a 
horizontal double heddle loom. The 
narrow cloth strips produced on such 
a loom are then sewn together to 
form the cloth. 

Detail of cloth, Asante, Ghana, col- 
lected c. 1900. Cotton, wool(?). Total 
length 218 cm. HA1995. On loan from 
the Royal Canadian Military Insti- 
tute, Toronto. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 




1 m 




















■ HI 


















1' /Af/:^^^ 



























H i 



1 ■ 













■ i 














■■0 BWM 



I Bl' 

■ HibBIvJ 1 






1 B^Bb 

BB 1 1 


# ■ 




1 j 

1 1 

1 1 


m I 



'■'III 1 


The Hausa have been well known for mam generations as expert leather work- 
ers. The decorated leather on these objects is probably tanned goatskin. 

Knives and sheaths, Hausa. Nigeria, collected c. 1900. 

/•'/' to bottom 

Iron, tin, brass wood, leather, pigmentation Length of sheath 27 cm, length of 

knife 40 cm. H \104Qa-b 

Iron, wood, leather, pigmentation. Length of knife 38 cm. length ol sheath 20 *. m 


On loan from the Royal Canadian Military Institute Toronto (Photo 

Santiago Ku) 



bjects,like people, 
have life histories. But 
this four-headed figure 
remains something of a mystery. 
It was collected by Gore Munbee 
Barrow, who died the principal of 
a boys' school in the quiet 
Ontario town of Grimsby. As a 
young man, however, he was an 
officer in the imperial army. He 
fought in the Transvaal during the 
Boer War and by 1902 was a lieu- 
tenant in the West African Fron- 
tier Force. The next year he took 
part in the British campaign 
against the Sokoto Caliphate, an 
Islamic state in northern Nigeria. 

Somewhere in Nigeria he 
acquired this statue. It was almost 
certainly made by an Igbo artist 
about the turn of the century in a 
village in the southeastern part of 
the country and probably depicts 
a spirit or supernatural being. A 
white face is found on many 
representations of Igbo deities and 
is often interpreted as an indica- 
tion of moral purity. 

Many years later Barrow's 
family gave the statue to the 
Royal Ontario Museum. They 
believed that one of his men had 
been sacrificed to this "death fet- 
ish." The inscription "No. 80, 
Lagos, WAFF." on the metal tag 
that accompanied the figure was 
thought to be the victim's military 

Historical archives have not 
revealed reports of such an event. 
Whether or not the story is accu- 
rate, the alleged barbarity of 
"savage customs" often attracted 
collectors to certain kinds of 
artifacts, which now fill our 

Figure, Igbo, Nigeria, late 19th century. Wood, pigmentation, metal, 
glass. Height 42 cm. 962.76.5/7. Gift of the Reverend O. G. Barrow. 
(Photo: Santiago Ku) 



The imperial sentiments of anglophone Canadians were highly aroused 
by the outbreak of the Boer War in 1899. Canadian security was not 
threatened by this South African war between Britain and the Boer repub- 
lics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, but demands, especially from 
Ontario, for Canada to support the Crown led to the dispatch of the 1000- 
strong Royal Canadian Regiment. A later contingent and those who 
enlisted individually in the British army brought the number of Canadi- 
ans who took part in the war to some 7300. 

In their initial engagement at the battle of Paardeberg in 1900, Cana- 
dian forces were instrumental in effecting the surrender of the Afrikaners 
under General Piet Arnoldus Cronje. Those exploits on the distant front 
were covered for the public back home by several war correspondents. 

"From Canada's Snows to Afric's Sunny Fountains," troops departing Ottawa for 
the Boer War in South Africa. The Illustrated London News, 10 February 1900. 



£Jr Frederick Hamilton Tells How 
Sunday, Dec 3, Was Spent. 


Nota Peasant Picture of the Climatic Condition* 
tt the Gr«tt British Camping Ground— Other 
•visa Ue Canadian Battalion Was Alright— The 
Boys Under Canvas and Expecting Marching 
Order Hourly— Two Million Pounds of Muni- 
tiorv* f Wnr dl De Aer— South African Scenery 
Conlr-ated 'With Canadian — A Splendid Night 


•GrapHte-Story-of-the -ftatTtrtjy-ttf. 
Frtd^-rick Hamilton. 


The Week of He«vy Me-ehing That P-eeer!ed the 
B«u;e— N'ghl After N.gui- Spenl Tramping Lh« 
Vet-ll— The S.iJJen Call Lo Arms on Sunday 
Morning, Fen. 18-Acr.' — Lhe tflbdder River — A 
— OeWTTptTc-l OTTJT» B.NT PUSJtffln -Hi AUvunlagM 
and Di^ndvun'.ag'.fe -Ba' Me Strength of iho RoyaJ 

Headlines and introductions for two 
of Hamilton's reports from South 
Africa. Toronto Globe, 8 January, 6 
April 1900. (Photo: Library of the 
University of Toronto) 

Lieutenant Frederick Hamilton reported for the Toronto Globe and 
was the first to break the news of the victory at Paardeberg. When not 
recording events on the battlefield, visiting the wounded in hospital, or 
covering life in camp, Hamilton collected artifacts at the request of David 
Boyle, curator of the ethnology and archaeology collections of the Ontario 
Provincial Museum in Toronto. An article by Hamilton in the Ontario 
Archaeological Report of 1900 recounts how his strange commission 
came about. 

Mr. Boyle wrote to me after I had landed in South Africa suggesting 
that I get for him any information, or any objects of interest (not mere 
curiosities) from an ethnological point of view, and it fell out that 
very soon after receiving his letter my travels brought me near 
numerous native kraals. His remarks had quickened my interest in a 
people whom I found amiable, amusing and interesting, and 1 pur- 
chased from them what household objects I could carry, and from 
time to time noted down such details as I observed of their domestic 
habits. The entirely fragmentary nature of my observations are appar- 
ent. (P. 40) 

Predictably, the small collection he managed to assemble is as frag- 
mentary as the journal entries recorded in his article. The light that his 
notes throw on the actual process of collecting, however, enhances the 
historical and ethnological value of the artifacts. 

The beer strainer illustrated was in use when Hamilton bought it and 
another one in a large Basotho village near Vereeniging in the Orange Free 
State at the end of May 1900. He noted the following: 

These things were made of a small wiry reed which grows by 
streams The two strainers are of differing patterns and it is impor- 
tant to remember that I bought them in the same village, from the 
same people so far as I can recall. A woman with her hair 'done up' in 
straight tuffs, with bits of grass for curl-papers, acted as intermediary, 
as she knew a little English and had the requisite size, lungs and 
chest. When the buying languished she cooly demanded her 'percel', 
i.e. percentage -commission. I was amused (P. 44) 

His notes on this child's skirt are much shorter: 

Bought at a Basuto [Basotho] kraal near Winburg a small girl's dress. 

His account of this nosecleaner reveals not only something of his own 
personality but also one of the main reasons that these people gave up 
their objects, namely the need for money to participate in a growing cash 
economy. Hamilton was probably unaware of the pejorative connotations 
of the word "Kaffir," which came originally from the Arabic word for 
unbeliever or infidel. 

26th May Bought to-day at a kraal near Wonderpan, about twenty 
miles south of Kroomstadt, the 'Kaffir handkerchief from an old 
Basuto woman. This implement (whose use 1 dimly recollect having 
seen alluded to by some African traveller, I believe Livingstone) is a 
small arrowheaded pewter implement about 4 'A inches long — This 

is used by the old people alone. The natives regarded my desire to 
own this as a huge joke. 

Attached to this implement was the circular brass blanket 
buckle. ... No distinction of sex is made in the use either of this imple- 
ment or the 'handkerchief The old woman who was the owner 

was reluctant to give it up but found three shillings enough to induce 
her to part with it. (P. 43) 


Awarded a South African campaign medal, Hamilton returned to Can- 
ada, where he remained an ardent imperialist who favoured the appoint- 
ment of a British prince as the king of Canada. 

Left to right: 

Child's skirt, Basotho, Lesotho, col- 
lected 1900. Fibre cord, leather, beads 
Length 40 cm. 22125. 
Nose cleaner, Basotho, Lesotho, col- 
lected 1900. Metal, beads, leather. 
Length 40 cm. 22109. 
Beer strainer, Basotho, Lesotho, col- 
lected 1900. Woven plant fibre. 
Length 51 cm. 22112. 
(Photo: Santiago Ku) 


Another veteran of the Boer War was Edward Mountjoy Pearse, a 
surgeon who served with a British army medical unit in South 
Africa, where he collected some thirty pieces of Zulu beadwork. 
Unfortunately, he recorded virtually no information about them, so that 
their exact function and use is unknown. In general, Zulu beadwork is 
for personal adornment. Made only by girls and women, it is worn by 
both sexes. 

This particular necklace probably acted as a love message sent from a 
young woman to a man, who then incorporated it into his courting attire. 
Wearing the necklace was a public statement that he had established a 
relationship with the maker of the beadwork gift. The colours of the beads 
and the way they were arranged determined the specific meaning, which 
can no longer be precisely decoded. However, depending on its placement 
in the design, the colour blue can suggest either fidelity or ill feeling and 
can signal a request. Red, the colour of fire and blood, conveys strong 
emotion— whether anger, love, or longing. White generally speaks of 
purity and goodness. 

Necklace, Zulu, South Africa, collected 1900. Beads, fibre. Length of panel 10 cm. 
971.119.7. Gift of Mr. Allan T. H. Pearse. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

The struggles of the Euro- 
pean powers in World 
War I were played out 
not only in the trenches of the 
Western Front but also in the 
grassfields of Central Africa. This 
stool was part of the spoils of war 
taken by British forces in 1915 
from Government House at Buea, 
in the German colony of Kamerun 
(now Cameroon). 

The stool is probably a piece 
of contact art created in the inter- 
action between Africans and 
Europeans in the early part of this 
century. In the style of the west- 
ern grassfields, it displays some 
indigenous features, including its 
round form. At each side is an 
attendant riding a leopard, the 
royal alter ego. The male attend- 
ant on the left may be holding a 
chiefly drinking horn, while the 
female carries what looks like a 
gourd, which some scholars have 
suggested might contain palm 
wine. The latticework back is 
composed of highly stylized frogs, 
which are symbols of fertility, or 
spiders, which signify wisdom to 
those who know how to read the 
traditional designs. 

Other features may have been 
modified to meet European 
expectations or suggested by non- 
African forms. For example, the 
two attendants and the lattice- 
work back make the stool more 
like an armchair. There are also 
some iconographic changes: leop- 
ards would not normally appear 
in pairs, nor in association with 
women. The stool may well have 
been a gift from an African ruler 
to a German colonial officer or an 
elaborate piece of tourist art 
bought by a European. 


Prestige stool, Grassfields, Cameroon, 
collected 1915. Wood, pigmentation. 
Height 100 cm. 949.84.4. Gift of Mr. 
James Somerville. (Photo: ROM) 





Taking Dr. David Livingstone as their model and inspiration, Christian 
missionaries from all parts of the British Empire believed that they were 
bringing "light" to the "Dark Continent." That light was to transform the 
lives of their converts. 

Several different Protestant denominations sent missionaries into 
Africa. Although there were many doctrinal differences among the 
evangelists, there seems to have been only one basic model of what they 
thought an African Christian should be. To convert meant first of all to 
give up previous religious beliefs and rituals. It also meant to subscribe 
not only to Christianity but to conform to European customs. While this 
model was an abstract view applied indiscriminately and rarely moder- 
ated by existing cultural practices, there were considerable differences in 
the reactions of individual missionaries to the peoples they met. The 
responses of those peoples were equally varied: many missionaries were 
tolerated, some seem to have been genuinely liked, and a few were 
actively discouraged from preaching and completely rejected. The educa- 
tional opportunities, medical clinics, and knowledge of the wider world 
that the missionaries offered were, however, often readily recognized. 

Mrs. Thomas Titcombe offering "a lesson in how to wash clothes" to Yagba 
women in northern Nigeria about 1915. (Photo: Courtesy of the Titcombe family) 


AREA, 12.000,000 SQ.MI. POPULATION, 150,000,000 

Areas in white repre- 
sent territory occupied 
by Mission Stations or 
Christian communities. 
Area in black shows 
the unevanqelized por 
tion of the Continent. 

Africa as seen by Canadian mis- 
sionaries in 1904. The Story of 
Chisamba, by H. W. Barker. 


The original catalogue entry for this hat, collected by the Reverend Walter T. 
Currie in Angola, describes it as "a grass hat made by a native in imitation of a 
white man's straw hat." The rope was made in Angola at the Chisamba mission 
station run by Canadian Congregational missionaries. Martha Wightman, a 
volunteer working in the field, brought it back to Canada. 

Rope, Ovimbundu, Angola, collected 1917-1920. Hemp. Diameter 10 cm. HA618. 

Gift of Miss Martha Wightman. 

Hat, Ovimbundu, Angola, collected 1886-1910. Grass. Height 6.4 cm, diameter 24 

cm. HAC191. Gift of Mrs. Walter Thomas Currie. 

(Photo: Santiago Ku) 

32 A group of mission school boys in 

Angola in 1910. (Photo: The United 
Church of Canada/Victoria Univer- 
sity Archives, Toronto) 

Mennonite Brethren church in a Nupe 
village in Nigeria about 1903. (Photo: 
SIM, International) 

■ • 



"We turn our backs on the last traces of civilization and our faces toward 
the centre of the Dark Continent," wrote Walter T. Currie in a letter home 
upon his arrival in Angola. 

Currie was born in 1858 into a middle class Toronto family already 
interested in the abolition of slavery. As a boy he read and reread Living- 
stone's journals. He seems to have decided at quite an early age to become 
a missionary. In 1886, after completing a course at the Congregational 
Church training school in Montreal, he left for the Portuguese colony of 
Angola with his new bride. She was dead of fever in six weeks, but he was 
to live in Central Africa for the next twenty-five years. 

He established his base at Chisamba among the Ovimbundu, who 
had been active intermediaries in the slave trade in central Angola for 
centuries. They also controlled the rubber trade from the late 19th cen- 
tury until its collapse in 1911, the same year that the slave trade was 
finally ended. Currie envisaged his converts carrying the gospel into the 
interior with their caravans, which travelled where no mission stations 
existed. At the same time, he wanted to provide alternative employment 
to his male converts, because he saw the life of a carrier on the trail as 
"full of temptations." 

The Reverend Walter T. Currie as a 
young man. The Story of Chisamba, 
by H.W. Barker. 


Currie's carpentry workshop at Chisamba mission station sometime before 1910. 
(Photo: Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift of Mrs. Walter Thomas Currie) 

Women and children at Chisamba mission station about 1895. The Ovimbundu 
had been exposed to European material culture and practices for generations, 
through their contact with the Portuguese. The women here are all wearing trade 
cloth, some made into the sort of dress preferred by the missionaries, who also 
encouraged their converts to cultivate the bananas seen in the background. The 
square shape of the house and its outdoor hearth might be further "improve- 
ments" suggested by the Canadian missionaries, who found indigenous architec- 
ture dark, smokey, and dank. (Photo: The United Church of Canada/Victoria 
University Archives, Toronto) 

A great believer in industrial education, Currie put his faith in a car- 
pentry shop and flour mill. He hoped these enterprises would foster not 
only Christianity but also legitimate commerce and what he regarded as 
civilized behaviour. Thus the Ovimbundu turned out flour for white 
bread, beds for couples to sleep in, and doors to keep their neighbours 
out. Female converts were to take up European dress or "modest" attire 
and learn how to set a table and wash dishes; in short, to become what 
the missionaries described as "homemakers." As well as displaying 
unconscious cultural arrogance and paternalism, these changes 
transformed the women from producers of baskets, garden foods, and pot- 
tery into consumers of soaps, spoons, and forks, while tying them tightly 
to the developing mission economy. 

Currie believed his converts should keep their own customs, provided 
that these were not, in his opinion, unhealthy physically or morally. But it 
is unlikely he really understood how profoundly disruptive some of his 
"simple changes" would be. The people of Chisamba were to live, for 
example, in square houses of mud bricks, strung out in clearly delineated 
rows with carefully cultivated gardens, rather than in clusters of round, 
wattle-and-daub, thatched houses. These homes were to be occupied by a 
nuclear family composed of a man, his wife, and their children. By encour- 
aging such living arrangements, Currie weakened alliances between 
lineages, discouraged the intergenerational and polygynous family, 
emphasized the loyalty of the couple to each other at the expense of kin- 
dred, and created a different concept of privacy. 


A street, possibly Toronto Avenue, at 
the Chisamba mission station in 
Angola sometime before 1910, show- 
ing the homes of African converts. 
Such a street is a graphic illustration 
of the order and regimentation mis- 
sionaries sought to impose on what 
they often saw as cultural confusion 
and social chaos. (Photo: Department 
of Ethnology, ROM, gift of Mrs. 
Walter Thomas Currie) 


There were to be transformations of the inner person as well. The con- 
version of the man known to his people as the Lion was crucial to Cur- 
rie s success. Chief Kanjundu, a life-long sufferer from bronchial asthma, 
went to Curries popular medical clinic after indigenous medicine pro- 
vided no relief. Converted in 1898, the chief made considerable economic 
sacrifices. He rejected polygyny, for example, and thereby gave up a mea- 
sure of prosperity, based upon his wives' labour. He even tried to find 
Christian bachelors for his surplus spouses. He also freed some one hun- 
dred domestic slaves, to whom he issued documents renouncing any 
responsibility for their welfare or crimes they might commit. All his 
diviners and herbalists were driven out if they refused to convert. No beer 
was brewed in his capital. The Canadian missionary was particularly 
pleased to baptize the Lion, kneeling alongside some of his former slaves, 
in 1901. 

All the reasons Kanjundu chose to convert cannot be reconstructed at 
this date, but it seems fair to assume there was a political and economic 
as well as spiritual alliance between the two men. Kanjundu gained pref- 
erential credit at the mission store, the right to dispense medicine from 
the clinic, and access to Currie's knowledge of the European world. He 
also saved on his tax bill, because Portuguese colonial authorities taxed 
African dwellings but not houses in the European style. 

In 1903 Currie and his second wife Amy went on a journey into the 
interior, eventually travelling thousands of miles to reach Lake Nyasa. He 
rode an ox, while she often travelled in a hammock borne by the carriers 

Chief Kanjundu about 1905, after his 
conversion, probably photographed 
by Currie, who had taken a camera 
with him to Africa in 1886. (Photo: 
Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift 
of Mrs. Walter Thomas Currie) 

who made the journey possible. Other Africans acted as guides or inter- 
preters and secured safe passage through different territories. After a day's 
march of four or five hours, the party made camp, traded cloth and brass 
tacks for fresh food from villages on the trail, and spent the evening sing- 
ing hymns around a bonfire. 

The Curries were not "eaten by cannibals," as their friends at home 
had feared, but returned many months later burdened with the numerous 
curios they had collected along the way. This trip through Zaire, Malawi, 
Zambia, and back into Angola, along with his pioneering evangelical 
work, ensured that by the time he died in 1915 Walter T Currie was 
known as Canada's Livingstone. 


These three objects, which offered 
protection against disease and misfor- 
tune, were part of a set belonging to 
an Ovimbundu chief, possibly Kan- 
jundu. The beaded charm was to be 
worn around the neck to prevent 
bronchitis. Inside the pouch was a 
"strong medicine" for use against an 
enemy. The rattle was used, accord- 
ing to the missionary, "to awaken the 

Top to bottom: 

Charm, Ovimbundu, Angola, col- 
lected c. 1901. Skin, fibre, unknown 
substance. Height 14 cm. 901.5.31k. 
Rattle, Ovimbundu, Angola, collected 
c. 1901. Wood, seed pods, seeds, pig- 
mentation. Length 22 cm. 901.5.31a. 
Charm, Ovimbundu, Angola, col- 
lected c. 1901. Cloth, beads, horn, 
fibres. Length 14 cm. 901.5.3^. 
Gift of Mrs. John Currie. 
(Photo: Santiago Ku) 


Currie was given this staff and several head of cattle as a gift by Paramount Chief 
Lewanika, ruler of the Lozi people of Zambia. Also sometimes called the Barotse, 
these people formed one of the most powerful nations in south-central Africa. In 
return, the Canadian missionary offered European-style doors, tables, and beds. 

Staff, Lozi, Zambia, collected before 1910. Wood, ivory. Length 85 cm. HAC428. 
Gift of Mrs. Walter Thomas Currie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

" - ■ ■ ■ ■ < • ■ . gS S 

The Curries collected dozens of baskets, possibly to demonstrate the basic "civil- 
ity" and ingenuity of their potential converts. This set of Lunda origin may have 
come from the 1903 trip. They were probably used in the preparation of food 
crops such as manioc, millet, peanuts, beans, or maize, upon which the Lunda still 
depend, along with stock keeping, for their subsistence. 

Baskets, Lunda, Angola or Zaire, collected before 1910. Coiled grass. Left to right: 
heights 22 cm, 33 cm, 27 cm. HAC53, HAC48, HAC56. Gift of Mrs Walter Thomas 
Currie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

Unfortunately very little is known 
about this powerfully carved sculp- 
ture. According to the old catalogue 
records at the Royal Ontario 
Museum, Currie thought it was "used 
by native doctors in divining." There 
are no signs of wear, but one arm has 
been broken and repaired, which may 
explain why the carving was sold or 
given away rather than kept for 
indigenous use. 

Human figure, Zambia, probably col- 
lected 1903. Wood, metal. Height 34 
cm. HAC466. Gift of Mrs. Walter 
Thomas Currie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 


4 o 

Such stools were prestige items, associated with leadership. The Lwena do not 
have a highly centralized power structure, but rather a system that relies on a 
number oflocal chiefs. The large face on this chair is probably female, as the 
Lwena are matrilineal, calculating descent through the female line. 

Stool, Lwena (Lovale), Angola, collected before 1910. Wood. Height 60 cm. 
HAC394. Gift of Mrs Walter Thomas Currie. (Photo: ROM) 

Details of carving, front and back views. 

This stool was a personal gift to Emma Hostetler, a Mennonite 
missionary from Ontario. It was made in the Nupe kingdom of 
northern Nigeria, whose craft specialists were noted 
blacksmiths, brass workers, weavers, and tailors. Hostetler, the first 
worker sent out to Nigeria in 1907 by the Bethany Missionary Church, 
died there of smallpox in 1912. 

Some gifts were probably presented because of the special status fre- 
quently accorded missionaries, who were an important source of informa- 
tion about the wider world. Other gifts must have been the genuine 
expression of friendships across cultural boundaries. 


Stool, Nupe, Nigeria, collected 1907-1912. Wood. Height 9.3 cm. 983.57.6. Gift of 
Mr. William A. Shantz. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 



he Reverend Joseph 
Blakeney acquired this 
object sometime before 
1926 in what was then the Bel- 
gian Congo (now Zaire). The origi- 
nal catalogue entry describes the 
piece as an ivory god. Anthropo- 
morphic figures are quite 
common in African sculpture, 
although portraits and statues of 
particular individuals are some- 
what rare. Neither dolls nor deco- 
rative art but objects intimately 
linked to the most basic concerns 
of African societies, they are ideas 
in physical form. 

This ivory figure was made for 
use in the Bwami association, the 
most powerful institution in Lega 
society. The source of power and 
legitimate authority, it provides a 
basis for both collective identity 
and action. Its members strive for 
the acquisition of wisdom, moral 
purity, and beauty, progressing 
through a series of ranks, or 
grades, of which five are for men 
and three for women. 

Emblems of the highest male 
rank, carvings like this one are 
displayed during initiation rites. 
They are associated with proverbs 
and aphorisms outlining the 
moral and ethical code of the 
Bwami. This particular figure, 
called Nawasakwa Nyona, re- 
minds the Lega, "The one who has 
the signs of beauty engraved on 
the body is no longer as he or she 
used to be," a comment on the 
transient nature of both people 
and things. 

The patination has appeared 
because the figure was annointed 
with oil, red powder, and scent 
and then polished. The bodies of 
initiates are treated in the same 
way. The ivory carvings in human 
form are believed to have special 
powers in strengthening a per- 
son's life force. 

Figure, Lega, Zaire, collected before 1926. Ivory, pigmentation. Height 15 
cm. HA1330. (Photo: ROM) 

Many missionaries returned from the field with trophies of their 
victories on spiritual battlefields. Most conspicuous were the 
so-called fetishes their converts usually surrendered. In the 
African context these were objects generally used for manipulating super- 
natural powers or attempting to mitigate their negative effects, such 
as the outbreak of disease or the eruption of natural disasters. But for 
most missionaries these artifacts were just the harmful products of 
pagan practices. 

Writing to congregations at home about the Ovimbundu people of 
Angola, whom he was hoping to convert, the Reverend Walter T. Currie 
reminded Canadian Christians, "It is scarcely necessary to say that they 
are superstitious, for all ignorant people are more or less so." A great num- 
ber of missionaries themselves remained more or less ignorant of African 
religious beliefs. Some did try to understand, and a few quite successfully, 
the worldviews that underpinned cultural practices like divination. But 
most saw diviners— whom they often called witch doctors— as competi- 
tors and denounced them. 

Ovimbundu diviners determined the cause of illness, death, disaster, 
and misfortune, whether personal or collective. After shaking his basket, a 
diviner read the pattern formed by the objects, which was thought to be a 
message from the spirit world. He interpreted this to discover the source 
of the trouble that was afflicting his patients, or clients. Through various 
prescriptions the diviner sought to restore balance in the social order, har- 
mony in the village, and health to the psyche or body. 


This whisk was probably used to 
attract the spirit of a divination bas- 
ket which then entered the body of 
the diviner, causing him to go into a 
trance. The Reverend Walter T Currie 
described it as the property of a "fet- 
ish priest." 

Whisk, Ovimbundu, Angola, col- 
lected before 1901. Horns, horse or 
zebra hair, reptile skin, brass. Length 
71 cm. 22725. Gift of Mrs. John Cur- 
rie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

Divination basket with selected con- 
tents, Ovimbundu, Angola, collected 
before 1933. Woven cane, fur, feather 
various materials. Diameter 18 cm. 
HA1840. Gift of Mrs. John Tucker. 
(Photo: Santiago Ku) 

Leona Tucker, a missionary and the wife of Curries successor in 
Angola, collected this basket sometime before 1933 from a converted 
diviner, who no longer needed it. Her notes on its contents help recon- 
struct, if only in fragments, another cultural reality. 

Divination objects had specific interpretations, determined by their 
positions in the basket. In the selection from Tucker's basket, the human 
figure, for example, represented a female ancestor of noble birth, who was 
thought to be responsible for pneumonia, a common Ovimbundu disease. 
When the object appeared in association with a stool, an ancestral spirit 
was demanding a memorial feast. The shoulder bone of a turtle, beside 
the figure, was probably chosen because it looks like a woman's hoe. If it 
came up in the basket, the diviner told a widower to find a new wife to 
look after his sick children. The next object is part of a gourd, like those 
made into drinking cups. Its appearance meant that the spirit causing the 
trouble wanted an offering of beer. Representing a miniature game board, 
the piece of decorated ivory indicated that the trouble, whatever it was, 
could only be solved collectively, that is, with more than one "player." The 
organic tissue was a symbol for the afterbirth and suggested to the 
diviner that the patient was ill because it had not been properly buried, 
but eaten instead by an animal. The cure was a herbal infusion. The iri- 
descent beetle, standing for the sun, announced that sickness would 
arrive in a few "suns," or days. An Ovimbundu proverb warns, "When the 
sun rises, don't whistle boastfully, for a sun holds many things in store." 
The colour of the piece of copper wire called to mind the reddish skin of a 
newborn baby. The diviner interpreted the object to mean that the person 
in question was an orphan, whose mother had died on the day he was 
born. When the small bell appeared, the diviner recalled the proverb 
"Even though you tie the bell inside your cloth, some movement will 
make it tinkle and betray you," that is, he knew that the petitioner had 
lied and was not telling the truth about the events under investigation. 


Divination objects, Ovimbundu, 
Angola, collected before 1933. 
Left to right: 

Wood. Length 6.4 cm. HA1775. 
Turtle bone. Length 5.7 cm. HA1794. 
Gourd. Diameter 2.4 cm. HA1777. 
Ivory, pigmentation. Length 3.2 cm. 

Organic tissue. Length 2.5 cm. 

Wood-boring beetle. Length 3.8 cm. 

Copper. Length 1.9 cm. HA1828. 
Metal. Diameter 1.5 cm. HA1832. 
Gift of Mrs. John Tucker. (Photo: San- 
tiago Ku) 

4 6 


he Reverend T. Hope 
Morgan of Toronto 
worked with the Congo 
Balola Mission in Zaire from 1891 
to 1911. During his long career in 
Central Africa, he often visited 
isolated Protestant mission posts 
by steamship, because many of 
the stations were on the Zaire 
River or its major tributaries. His 
collection was made during the 
last days of the independent Kuba 
kingdom, as Belgian colonial rule 
was being established throughout 
its territory. 

This mask of Ngaady a 
Mwash belongs to one of the most 
distinctive masquerades per- 
formed by the Kuba people. 
Unfortunately the mask alone, 
without its richly embroidered 
costume, has lost some of its artis- 
tic vitality, but it is one of the ear- 
lier examples of its type collected 
by Europeans. 

Ngaady a Mwash is the sister 
of Woot, the mythological ances- 
tor, and the wife of Mwash a 
Mbooy, who introduced the idea 
of kingship. Her mask appears at 
both village dances and the royal 
court, as part of performances at 
initiation rituals and funerals. It is 
accompanied by two male masks, 
one of her husband-to-be and the 
other of his brother Mboom. The 
trio reenacts the events surround- 
ing the birth of the Kuba nation 
and the origin of royalty, bringing 
the past into intimate contact 
with living generations. 

The face painting on this 
mask comes from Kuba textile 
designs. The adornment of the 
piece with cloth, cowrie shells, 
and beads is probably an indica- 
tion of the prestige and high sta- 
tus accorded Ngaady a Mwash in 
Kuba cosmology. 

Mask, Kuba, Zaire, collected 1891-1911. Wood, pigmentation, cloth, beads, 
cowrie shells. Height 32 cm. HA2652. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

It is not known why the Reverend T. Hope Morgan collected Kuba 
textiles while a missionary in Zaire. He may have just appreciated 
their artistry or thought they provided an excellent example of the 
basic ingenuity and creativity of the African peoples among whom he 
worked and travelled. 

This cloth exhibits some of the aesthetic elements that make Kuba 
textiles so visually exciting. A very strong rhythm is established through 
the combination of contrasting colours and the repetition of certain pat- 
terns, only to be deliberately interrupted by the introduction of new 
designs. The overall effect is one of constrained dynamism and bounded 
movement, much appreciated by the Kuba. While meant to be worn as 
clothing, these embroidered cloths, nevertheless, seem to be treated by 
their makers as art forms worthy of animated discussion, interpretation, 
and aesthetic criticism. 

A Kuba cloth can only be produced through the cooperation of a male 
weaver and a female embroiderer. On single-heddle looms, men produce a 
basic plain-weave cloth from the fibres of young raffia palms, which are 
also dyed and used as the embroidery thread. Women choose from some 
two hundred designs and work their patterns without first marking them 
out on the cloth. Even a relatively small piece, like this one, would take at 
least a month to complete, the embroidery being done after the woman 
returned from the fields. To have the leisure time to execute these designs 
means that a woman belongs to a wealthy household. This in turn ensures 
that the cloth carries great prestige for its owner. 


Detail of cloth, Kuba, Zaire, collected 
1891-1911. Raffia, pigmentation. Total 
length 71 cm. HA2314. (Photo: Santi- 
ago Ku) 

4 8 


I had a hard job taking this photograph as the woman had to be held 
while I set up my camera. Just as soon as she was released and I had 
pressed the bulb, she ran away again. Poor creature, she thought I was 
going to kill her with that horrid looking thing, the camera. One can- 
not blame her. (A. W. Banfield, Life Among the Nupe Tribe in West 
Africa, p. 24) 

The exoticism of the "Dark Continent" and its "primitive" people 
attracted many early photographers, some of whom were also mis- 
sionaries. Unlike those who focused on the supposedly vanishing Indians 
of North America and tried to capture a timeless past, missionaries in 
Africa wanted to document the changes that their work was producing. 
Their favourite subjects seem to have been themselves, their evangelical 
activities, and church buildings. Photographs of African converts were 
also popular; these portraits of individuals and their families are quite dif- 
ferent from the often anonymous group shots of the unconverted. Mission- 
ary photographs, intended to rouse the imaginations and emotions of 
congregations at home, illustrated lectures and publications and circulated 
as lantern slides and postcards. 

The Reverend A. W. Banfield and his 
Nupe language teacher about 1903. 
(Photo: Courtesy of Mrs. Douglas 

Akre Mobia, a church elder from the 
Ivory Coast, photographed by Ban- 
field in 1927. (Photo: Department of 
Ethnology ROM, gift of the A. W. 
Banfield Estate) 


"Mongo natives, Mompono, Congo," a 
photograph most likely from one of 
Banfield's trips for the British and 
Foreign Bible Society between 1915 
and 1930. (Photo: Department of 
Ethnology, ROM, gift of the A. W. 
Banfield Estate) 

5 o 

Igbo shrine figures in Nigeria, photo- 
graphed by Banfield about 1928. 
(Photo: Department of Ethnology, 
ROM, gift of the A. W. Banfield 

Some of the best photographs of this kind in the collections of the 
Royal Ontario Museum were the work of the Reverend A. W. Banfield, 
who went out to Nigeria from Toronto in 1901 with the African Industrial 
Mission, to work among the Nupe people. A skilled linguist, he learned 
Nupe, eventually translated the Bible into that language, and founded the 
Niger Press. In 1915 he became general secretary for West Africa for the 
British and Foreign Bible Society. As their representative he travelled 
throughout West and Central Africa, covering by his own estimate some 
two hundred thousand miles. He reminisced later in an interview with 
J. H. Hunter, "In many places I walked in the very paths that David Liv- 
ingstone, H. M. Stanley, and Capt. Speke and other well-known African 
explorers had walked in years before." 

By the time ill health forced his return to Canada in 1930, he had 
taken over four thousand photographs. A few of them, acting as mirrors 
that reveal some of his own cultural assumptions as well as those of his 
subjects, are to be found throughout this book. 

This snuff box and pipe were collected by Martha Wightman, a 
Canadian missionary who toured central Angola between 1917 
and 1920. Tobacco was brought to Africa by European traders 
sometime in the 16th century Its use became widespread, and it often had 
medicinal and ritual, as well as recreational, functions. In Angola, for 
example, tobacco leaves that had been dipped in boiling water were 
applied to the abdomen as a treatment for bowel inflammation or colic. 

Some African peoples preferred taking snuff to pipe-smoking. The 
Ovimbundu, among whom Wightman travelled, thought snuff produced 
clear thoughts, sharper hearing, and better sight, while comforting 
the heart. 

Both men and women smoked, a fact which seems to have particu- 
larly disturbed female evangelists. Although they disapproved of smok- 
ing, missionaries collected large numbers of pipes and snuff boxes. Some 
may have come from converts, who were encouraged to give up tobacco. 
Many of these objects provided fine examples of "native handiwork" for 
curious congregations at home. While utilitarian in nature, many of the 
pipes and boxes have great charm and appeal. The valuable metal wire on 
this pipe and the imported brass tacks on this snuff container indicate 
that they were prestige items, which both reflected and enhanced the 
status of their owners. 


Snuff box, Angola, collected 1917-1920. Cane, tin, brass, leather. Height 10 cm. 


Pipe, Angola, collected 1917-1920. Wood, iron, tin, brass. Length 53 cm. HA549. 

Gift of Miss Martha Wightman. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 


Although they seem to have sometimes judged each other's efforts 
rather critically and with an ethnocentric bias, Canadian mis- 
sionaries and the peoples they hoped to convert shared an 
appreciation of personal grooming in general and of hairdressing in par- 
ticular. Many African peoples believe that to be fully civilized a person 
must be properly coiffured. The details of hairstyles can reveal and con- 
firm age, gender, social and marital status, and ethnicity Missionaries, 
for their part, admired and sought to encourage the cooperation these 
creations required. 

In his book Life Among the Nupe Tribe in West Africa, the Reverend 
A. W. Banfield noted: 

To plait a woman's hair is by no means a small task, for the hair is 
very thick and also very curly. A Nupe woman takes more care about 
the way her hair is done up than many would think. The hair is first 
combed out, and then a block of wood like a V turned upside down is 
placed on her head, and the hair is tightly plaited over this block. 
Should a block not be obtainable, they have learned to use old rags as 
a filling. When the hair is done up, it much resembles a rooster comb. 
There are many ways of doing up the hair, but the fashion does not 
change and make a certain way of doing up the hair out of date. After 
everything is finished, a nice cloth is used to cover the head, so as to 
keep out the dust. Hair done up this way will stay for over two 
weeks, and the trouble of doing it up every morning is done away 
with. (P. 40) 

Nupe women dressing each other's 
hair, photographed by the Reverend 
A. W. Banfield about 1903. (Photo: 
Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift 
of the A. W. Banfield Estate) 

The Reverend Walter T. Currie 
acquired this statue in Angola, some- 
time between 1886 and 1910. Its , 
actual function and meaning or sig- 
nificance are unknown. The old cata- 
logue records carefully note, however, 
that the hairstyle was typical for the 
women of Bihe, one of the Ovim- 
bundu kingdoms. 

Female figure with child, Ovim- 
bundu, Angola, collected 1886-1910. 
Wood, beads, pigmentation. Height 
44 cm. HAC67. Gift of Mrs. Walter 
Thomas Currie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 


Detail, back view. 


The missionaries also collected combs and hairpins in large numbers. 
These objects may have been used to suggest the basic civility of poten- 
tial converts and their worthiness as evangelical subjects. The high 
artistry of many of the combs, along with their portability, made them 
appealing as three-dimensional illustrations for missionary lectures and 
fund-raising tours in Canada. 

The wooden combs and ivory hairpins illustrated were all collected 

Clockwise from top left: 

Comb, Angola, collected 1886-1910. Wood. Length 14.5 cm. HAC112. 

Comb, Angola, collected 1886-1910. Wood. Length 11 cm. HAC113. 

Comb, Lwena (Lovale)(?), Angola, collected 1886-1910. Wood. Length 15 cm. 


Comb, Chokwe, Angola, collected 1886-1910. Wood. Length 14.6 cm. HAC577. 

Comb, Lwena (Lovale), Angola, collected 1886-1910. Wood. Length 18 cm. 


Comb, Angola, collected 1886-1910. Wood. Length 16 cm. HAC111. 

Gift of Mrs. Walter Thomas Currie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

between 1886 and 1910 by the Reverend Walter T. Currie during his long 
missionary career in Central Africa. Unfortunately, he made no distinction 
between ornamental and more functional combs, nor did he indicate 
whether the hairpins were worn by men or women. He left few records of 
which people actually made each piece, but most of these items probably 
came from Angola and seem to be of Ovimbundu, Lwena (Lovale), or 
Chokwe design. 


Hairpins, Ovimbundu, Angola, collected 1886-1910. Ivory, pigmentation. Left to 
right: lengths 18 cm, 18.5 cm, 17 cm, 15 cm, 18 cm. HAC117, HAC116, 944.20.31, 
HAC115, HAC119. Gift of Mrs. Walter Thomas Currie and Dr. Charles J. Currie 
(944.20.31). (Photo: Santiago Ku) 


Occasionally missionaries and soldiers shared an interest in cer- 
tain objects. That interest, however, may not have stemmed 
from the same preoccupations. 
The Reverend T Hope Morgan, who worked in the Belgian Congo 
(now Zaire) between 1891 and 1911, bought a large number of knives from 
soldiers of the Congo Free State Army. Many are of elaborate or unusual 
shape and fine workmanship; the throwing knife on the left in the photo- 
graph is an excellent example. Thrown so that it remained horizontal, the 
knife had an effective range of twenty to thirty metres. Also a hand 
weapon, it was carefully designed for both cutting and flying. Its general 
shape and decorative crosshatching suggest that it may be of Ngbaka ori- 
gin. The distinctive shape of Ngbaka knives seems to have influenced the 
implements designed by nearby peoples. 

Sometime during his missionary career the Reverend Joseph Blakeney 
also accumulated several knives from Zaire, which the Royal Ontario 
Museum acquired in 1926. He called the one illustrated an 'Azande war 
knife," from the Uele district. Its shape, however, is more typical of Mang- 
betu work. These people live to the south of the Zande and are, like their 
neighbours, well known as metalworkers and potters. 

Left to right: 

Knife, Ngbaka(?), Zaire, collected 1891- 1911. Iron, wood, fibre, resin. Length 

43 cm. HA2467. 

Knife, Mangbetu, Zaire, collected before 1926. Iron, wood. Length 38 cm. 


(Photo: Santiago Ku) 

Islam was first carried into 
North Africa by Arab armies 
shortly after the death of the 
Prophet Muhammad in the 7th 
century. Now found throughout 
the continent, it has influenced 
not only African worldviews and 
the conduct of daily life but also 
art and architecture. In the pro- 
cess Islam itself has become an 
African religion. 

Missionaries who worked in 
Islamic areas hoping to convert 
Muslims to Christianity were 
often incensed by such practices 
as polygyny. But many were 
impressed with the Muslim clerics 
they met, whose dignity in dress 
and behaviour seemed more in 
keeping with their own standards 
and tastes. It was not uncommon, 
although far from universal, 
for missionaries to dress in 
Muslim robes, sometimes as an 
evangelical strategy. 

The Reverend A. W. Banfield, Cana- 
dian missionary, dressed as a Nupe 
mallam, or Quranic scholar, in Nige- 
ria about 1903. (Photo: Mrs. Douglas 


"Moslem chief and his followers," a photograph taken in northern Nigeria by the 
Reverend Thomas Titcombe sometime between 1908 and 1930. (Photo: Courtesy 
of the Titcombe family) 


Clockwise from top left: 
Bottles, Nigeria, collected in the early 
20th century. Gourd, leather. Heights 
18 cm, 19 cm. 969.201.14, 969.201.13. 
Prayer board, Nigeria, collected early 
in the 20th century. Wood, leather, 
ink. Length 53 cm. 969.201.22. 
Amulets, Nigeria, collected early in 
the 20th century. Leather, mirrors, 
paper(?). Length of necklace 48 cm. 
(Photo: Santiago Ku) 

During the early years of the 20th century, Charles Tourney carried 
out mission survey work in areas of northern Nigeria that were heavily 
Islamicized. A selection of mementoes that he collected is illustrated. He 
believed that the gourd bottles "were used for Muslim prayer," by which 
he most likely meant that they carried the water for washing before offer- 
ing daily prayers, one of the basic requirements of the faith. The string of 
leather amulets, or personal protective charms, is made of several small 
packets, each of which probably contains a piece of paper upon which is 
written verses in Arabic. Prayer boards were often used in teaching 
children verses from the Quran, the sacred text of Islam. The one shown 
here starts with surah 100, followed by surah 99, which is entitled 
"The Earthquake." 

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. 

When Earth is shaken with her [final] earthquake 

And Earth yieldeth up her burdens, 

And man saith: What aileth her? 

That day she will relate her chronicles, 

Because thy Lord inspireth her. 

That day mankind will issue forth in scattered groups to be shown 

their deeds. 
And whoso doeth good an atom's weight will see it then, And whoso 

doeth ill an atom's weight will see it then. 
(Mohammed Marmaduke Pickthall, trans., The Meaning of the 
Glorious Koran [New York: Mentor Books, 1953], p. 447) 

The handwoven and richly embroidered robe, shown in detail, acts 
as a visual statement. It reveals the wearer's profession of Islam 
and his allegiance to the political authority of the Muslim state 
known as the Sokoto Caliphate. Collected by the Reverend A. W. Banfield 
in the late 1920s, it is from northern Nigeria. The pattern has been identi- 
fied as the one known as Eight Knives. Embroidered in cotton and silk 
thread, the design suggests the idea of leadership and may have offered 
protection during a jihad, or holy war, when originally introduced in the 
early 19th century. 



> mm 




A l§pll 



Court messengers from the Sokoto 
Caliphate in northern Nigeria some- 
time before 1930. The man on the 
right in the photograph may be wear- 
ing the robe illustrated. (Photo: 
Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift 
of the A. W. Banfield Estate) 



Detail of robe, Sokoto Caliphate, 
Nigeria, collected in the late 1920s. 
Cotton, silk. Total length 135 cm. 
950.126.2. Gift of the A. W. Banfield 
Estate. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 



onsiderable variation 
existed in the mission- 
ary response to African 
musical traditions. Drumming, for 
example, was actively discour- 
aged in some places but inte- 
grated into church services in 
others. Missionaries themselves, 
however, came from a musicial 
subculture, for music has an 
important role in Christian wor- 
ship in general, and hymn singing 
was an integral part of their Prot- 
estant evangelical services. It is 
not surprising that so many 
brought home a wide variety of 
musical instruments from Africa. 

Often called a sansa or a 
thumb piano or finger xylophone 
(because of the way in which it 
is played), the mbira is one of 
the most common instruments 
south of the Sahara. An African 
invention, it is for the private 
enjoyment of its owner or may 
accompany communal songs and 
dances. Pitch is determined by the 
length and thickness of the metal 
keys. The shorter, thinner ones are 
high pitched, while the longer, 
thicker ones produce lower 
sounds. Young men seem to be the 
most frequent players of this 

The mbira illustrated was col- 
lected sometime between 1917 
and 1920 by Martha Wightman, a 
Canadian missionary who worked 
in Angola. The design on this one 
suggests that it may be of 
Chokwe origin. The metal rings at 
the base make a buzzing sound, 
which is considered an integral 
part of the music and comple- 
ments the melody produced by 
plucking the keys. 

Mbira, Chokwe(?), Angola, collected 
1917-1920. Wood, iron, brass, plant 
fibre. Length 24 cm. HA542. Gift of 
Miss Martha Wightman. (Photo: 

Beautifully constructed stringed instruments made of a highly val- 
ued material, such as ivory, were prestige objects. They seem to 
have been used by professional musicians, storytellers, or 
diviners and were meant to accompany songs and recitations. It is also 
possible that elaborately decorated harps with anthropomorphic features 
were made for sale to colonial officials and other non-Africans. The piece 
shown here, collected by the Reverend Joseph Blakeney in Zaire some- 
time before 1926, is of Zande or Mangbetu origin. Both these groups of 
central African peoples were noted artisans in clay and iron, as well 
as ivory. 


Harp, Zande or Mangbetu, Zaire, collected before 1926. Ivory, wood, rawhide, 
resin, beads. Length of body 40 cm. HA1316. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 



A museum collection may be thought of as a cultural text, one that can be 
read to understand the underlying cultural and ideological assumptions 
that have influenced its creation, selection, and display. Within such a col- 
lection, objects act as an expression not only of the worldviews of those 
who chose to make and use them, but also of those who chose to collect 
and exhibit them. 

These objects embody relationships of many kinds: between a people 
and their ancestors or the supernatural world, among members of the 
same society, and even between groups of people separated by cultural 
boundaries. They materialize the ideas and concretize the categories into 
which all people divide the physical and cultural universe. 

The earlier sections of the book examined the Royal Ontario 
Museums African collections through the mind of the collector, who 
wished to document his or her journey into the heart of Africa. Naturally, 
these same collections also reveal much about the cultures of Africa: the 
beauty of their artistry, the variety of their subsistence patterns, the cos- 
mological complexities of their philosophies, and the power of their polit- 
ical hierarchies. Finally, the nature of one of the most enduring public 
institutions may be better understood when the museum itself is analysed 
as an artifact, existing in a particular social milieu and historical period. 

The lower back hall of Eldon House, 
home of the Harris family, in London, 
Ontario, sometime before 1905. 
Ronald Harris, a Canadian engineer, 
surveyed mining properties in south- 
ern Africa around the turn of the cen- 
tury. A hunter as well as collector, 
many of the artifacts and trophy 
heads in the photograph are memen- 
toes of his five years travelling in 
Africa. The Harris and Currie fami- 
lies were related through marriage, 
and both donated African material to 
the Royal Ontario Museum to com- 
memorate family achievements in 
what was still widely regarded as the 
"Unknown Continent." (Photo: Eldon 
House, London Regional Art & His- 
torical Museums) 

Mask, Mende(?), Sierra Leone, collected before 1918. Wood, pigmentation. Height 
48 cm. HA385. On loan from Captain A. W. Boddy. (Photo: ROM) 

One of the most obvious 
characteristics of many 
African objects is the 
skill with which they were exe- 
cuted. The artistry that animates 
their forms is readily revealed. 

This mask is an embodiment 
of female beauty. The coiffure, the 
high smooth forehead, the half- 
closed but watchful eyes, the deli- 
cately pointed chin, and the 
ringed neck, all speak to those 
who know the iconographic code 
of the physical and emotional 
composure of the mature woman. 
Collected sometime before 1918 
by Captain A. W. Boddy, the 
mask was probably made in 
Sierra Leone. 

Carved by male artists, such 
masks are used by the Sande soci- 
ety or Bundu association, to 
which the majority of women in 
Sierra Leone and the adjacent 
part of Liberia belong after initia- 
tion at puberty. The members of 
the Sande, charged with 
transforming children into 
women, teach new attitudes 
towards tasks already learned that 
will make the girls good mothers 
and wives. During their seclusion, 
initiates receive both ritual 
knowledge and practical advice 
about sexual relations, childbirth, 
and the rights and obligations of 
womanhood in general. The shiny 
black finish of the Sande masks 
reminds initiates and members 
alike of the river waters, home of 
the female spirit from whom the 
power of Sande comes. 

The only documented case of 
female masking in Africa, the 
Sande masquerades are of consid- 
erable antiquity. They have suc- 
cessfully adapted to the demands 
of contemporary African life, in 
which they continue to play an 
important role. 


Mask, Igbo, Nigeria, collected c. 1905. 
Wood, pigmentation. Height 36 cm. 
976.220. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

This fine Igbo mask from Nigeria was collected about 1905. Called 
agbogho mmuo, "maiden spirit mask," it depicts the physical and 
moral beauty of young girls, who are a source of both pride and 
bridewealth for their families. The elaborate hairstyle and facial tattoos 
are drawn from real life. White, prominent on the face of this mask, is the 
colour of the supernatural world, particularly of ancestors, and signifies 
goodness. Masks like this one are still owned collectively and used by 
male age grades, appearing at celebrations and the funerals of important 
people. The men who wear the masks base their dance steps on those of 
young women. 

Although the mask or headdress is the piece most frequently collected 
and displayed in a museum, it is one part of a performative whole, which 
might include not only costume and choreography, but music, the singing 
of the spectators, the heat and dust of the dry season, and the charged 
atmosphere of the festival itself. 


An Igbo dancer from southern Nige- 
ria, photographed about 1928 by the 
Reverend A. W. Banfield. (Photo: 
Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift 
of the A. W. Banfield Estate) 


African artistry is not confined to works meant for the glorifica- 
tion of chiefs, appeals to the supernatural, and the honouring of 
ancestors. It is found as well in more mundane objects, items 
often meant for personal adornment and private pleasure. 

The striking colours and patterning of these beaded gourds suggest 
that they were made by Xhosa women living in South Africa in the early 
years of the 20th century. Skilful beading and aesthetic judgement have 
transformed what were probably containers for perfume, snuff, or medi- 
cine into strongly appealing art forms. 

Containers, Xhosa(?), South Africa, collected before 1916. Gourd, beads, fibre. Left 
to right: heights 18 cm, 15 cm. HA755, HA752. Gift of Trinity College, University 
of Toronto. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

African pastorales, 
although they often keep 
sheep and goats, are best 
known as cattle herders. Cattle, 
whose blood and milk are more 
important as food than their 
flesh, are the primary form of 
wealth in many East African cul- 
tures. The ownership of large 
herds brings power as well. These 
animals are used in the comple- 
tion of social contracts and the 
payment of bridewealth and 
sometimes in religious rituals as 
sacrifices. Indeed, many of the 
rhythms of social life are deter- 
mined by the needs of the cattle, 
which are often the focus of crea- 
tive or aesthetic attention. 

The Maasai rely on young 
warriors, armed with buffalo hide 
shields and well-polished spears, 
to defend the family herds from 
human and animal predators. The 
shield and spear pictured here 
were collected in 1909, although it 
is not known if they were found 
in Kenya or Tanzania. 


Shield, Maasai, Kenya or Tanzania, collected before 1909. Hide, wood, pigmenta- 
tion. Length 130 cm. HA52. 

Spear, Maasai, Kenya or Tanzania, collected before 1909. Iron, wood. Length 200 
cm. HA19. 
(Photo: Santiago Ku) 



long with the hunting 
and gathering of wild 
foods and the herding of 
animals, horticulture provides the 
third basic subsistence pattern 
found in Africa. The social and rit- 
ual lives of farmers dependent on 
crops vulnerable to a host of natu- 
ral and human disasters are inti- 
mately tied to the agricultural 

The Ovimbundu word for 
"year" comes from the verb mean- 
ing "to cultivate." And it is with 
hoes like the one illustrated that 
Ovimbundu women care for the 
maize, or corn, which is the main 
staple of their diet. Introduced by 
the Portuguese from Brazil, maize 
replaced millet or sorghum, per- 
haps as early as the 17th century. 
At the time this hoe was in use at 
the end of the 19th century, each 
woman had not only her own 
house but also her own fields and 
granary to store her harvest. 

This hoe was collected by the 
Reverend Wilberforce Lee of 
Cowansville, Quebec, who 
worked with the Canadian Con- 
gregational Church in Angola 
between 1889 and 1895. He never 
acquired a taste for the local corn- 
meal porridge. Writing home in 
1889 from somewhere on the trail, 
he complained, "We were fortu- 
nate to-day in being able to pur- 
chase some sweet potatoes and 
young onions, and these made a 
valuable addition to our evening 
meal of mush. Native mush is not 
the most palatable thing in the 
world, but still we can eat it, and 
we have to do so every night." 

Hoe, Ovimbundu, Angola, collected 
1889-1895. Iron, wood. Length of 
blade and handle 60 cm. 973.325.16. 
Gift of Miss Dorothea Bell. (Photo: 
Santiago Ku) 

Everything from seashells to salt functioned as a medium of 
exchange in Africa, but the use of metal was particularly wide- 
spread. Metals were important in the transactions completing 
social contracts. Durable, relatively portable, and easily measured, they 
could also be transformed into weapons, tools, and ornaments, which 
added to their value. 

These copper ingots, sometimes called Katanga crosses, served for 
centuries as signs of wealth and standards of value. They formed part of 
bridewealth payments and had to be returned to the bride's family if the 
marriage failed. It is said that in 1910, along the Kasai River in Zaire, one 
such cross would buy five or six chickens, two lengths of good cloth, three 
or four kilograms of rubber, or six axes. Cast in sand moulds, these ingots 
have a rough finish. They were all once in the collection of the Reverend 
Walter T Currie. 


Clockwise from top: 

Ingot, Zaire, collected 1886-1910. Copper alloy. Length 20 cm. HAC376. Gift of 

Mrs. Walter Thomas Currie. 

Ingot, Zaire, collected 1897. Copper alloy. Length 18 cm. 16860. Gift of Mrs. 

John Currie. 

Ingot, Zaire, collected 1886-1910. Copper alloy. Length 18 cm. 944.20.6. Gift of 

Dr. Charles J. Currie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 



_ " » • « 


Masks, Yoruba, Benin, collected before 1924. Wood, pigmentation. Left to right: 
heights 30 cm, 28 cm. 924x9.73, 924x9.2. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

The complexities of Afri- 
can worldviews find 
expression not only in 
the abstractions of living beliefs 
and the rhythms of daily life, but 
also in material form, in objects. 
These Yoruba masks represent 
two female priests wearing ritual 
headdresses. Although Gelede 
masks are worn by men, the 
masquerades celebrate or 
acknowledge the spiritual powers 
of elderly women and female dei- 
ties and ancestors, known collec- 
tively as "our mothers." The dance 
is meant to ensure that these 
powers are harnessed for the ben- 
efit of society and do not find 
expression in antisocial practices 
and disastrous events. The "chil- 
dren," that is, the Yoruba people, 
offer the performances to please 
and placate their "mothers." Miss- 
ing here are the veils that cover 
the dancers' faces and the layers 
of cloth that disguise their bodies. 

The masks appear in pairs at 
large public festivals held during 
the afternoon in the marketplace, 
before the rains begin, to mark the 
new agricultural season. There are 
male and female masks, and each 
gender has a distinctive choreog- 
raphy. Several characters drawn 
from Yoruba life are portrayed, 
some favourably and others nega- 
tively. Prostitutes, market women, 
traders, Muslim clerics, and 
strangers from other ethnic 
groups are among the various 
types represented. 

This set of Gelede masks was 
collected sometime before 1924 in 
Dahomey (now Benin). The serene 
expressions, which are common in 
this kind of mask, are still appreci- 
ated by Yoruba audiences. 




A young Nigerian woman, probably Yoruba, photographed sometime before 1930 
by the Reverend A. W. Banfield. (Photo: Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift of 
the A. W. Banfield Estate) 


Female figure with child, Yombe, 
Angola or Zaire, collected before 
1924. Wood, mirrors, pigmentation. 
Height 57 cm. HA848. (Photo: ROM) 

The Yombe, part of the great Kongo group of peoples, made fig- 
ures, such as this mother and child, as funerary sculpture. Their 
graves, particularly those of village elders, leaders, or family 
heads, were marked by these effigies, which usually featured the dead 
person, a spouse, or occasionally an attendant. A small shelter or shrine on 
the grave housed the figure, which was thought to offer aid or comfort to 
the deceased. The facial streaks are sometimes identified as tears. 

Collected before 1924 on the west-central coast of Africa, this figure is 
wearing a chief's cap, what may be a leopard-tooth necklace, and armlets, 
all of which indicate a person of some rank or social standing. 


"Mongo Wives Mourning for Deceased Husband at Mompono, Congo," a photo- 
graph by the Reverend A. W. Banfield taken sometime before 1930 in what is now 
Zaire. To the caption he added, "The women cover their bodies with white clay 
and mourn for many days." (Photo: Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift of the 
A. W. Banfield Estate) 



his type of Kongo sculp- 
ture, called nkisi nkonde, 
is frequently described as 
a nail fetish, but is better under- 
stood as a power figure. Rather 
than being owned by an individ- 
ual, it was probably used collec- 
tively, to protect the community 
and attack those who sought to 
do the villagers harm. Such 
objects played an important role 
in the procedures for swearing 
oaths, determining guilt or inno- 
cence, and exacting revenge, 
although this particular figure's 
precise functions can no longer 
be determined. 

The carver began by making a 
plain statue; a ritual specialist 
added magical or medicinal 
ingredients, which in this case are 
hidden behind the mirror inset in 
the stomach. Mirrors in such 
pieces were said to turn evil aside 
and throw it back upon those who 
seek to propagate misfortune. The 
nails were driven in during use, to 
arouse the figure to action or to 
mark events, such as the conclu- 
sion of a treaty. This figure seems 
to have had quite an active career, 
to judge by the number of nails, 
spikes, and blades embedded in it. 

Missing the spear or staff that 
was in its upraised arm, this 
sculpture was collected in west- 
central Africa sometime before 
1924. The Kongo, a large group of 
peoples who share linguistic and 
cultural traits, are found in Congo, 
Zaire, and Angola. 

Power figure, Kongo, Angola or Zaire 
collected before 1924. Wood, iron, 
clay, resin, pigmentation, glass, mir- 
ror. Height 64 cm. HA847. 
(Photo: ROM) 

African leaders, from vil- 
lage headmen to the 
rulers of large central- 
ized states, were often associated 
with objects that clearly defined 
and enhanced their secular and 
spiritual powers. The fly whisks 
pictured here were employed on 
state occasions. They are political 
power expressed in physical form. 
Such objects continue to be sym- 
bols of authority in many African 
societies, where they are widely 
used by elders, chiefs, kings, and 
presidents. These whisks were 
collected between 1884 and 1886 
by a Canadian doctor, Rolph 
Lesslie, in what is now Zaire. 


Whisks, Zaire, collected 1884-1886. Cane, copper. Left to right: lengths 80 cm, 
82.5 cm. HA461, HA462. Gift of Mrs. I. W. Lesslie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

"Chiefs of Egbe visiting mission 
house on Christmas morning," a pho- 
tograph taken sometime between 
1908 and 1930, from the album of the 
Reverend Thomas Titcombe, who 
worked in northern Nigeria. An 
added note calls attention to the 
umbrellas "used only by chiefs." 
(Photo: Courtesy of the Titcombe 


Distinctive hats and headdresses are one of the most common 
ways to distinguish rank and political leadership in Africa. This 
Kongo chief's cap was an emblem of his power, influence, and 
authority in both the secular and spiritual realms. It is adorned, very 
appropriately, with the teeth and claws of a leopard, an animal often asso- 
ciated with African rulers. The Reverend T. Hope Morgan acquired this 
piece in what is now Zaire, sometime between 1891 and 1911. 

A Yoruba chief wearing a beaded crown and veil, photographed in Nigeria by the 
Reverend A. W. Banfield in 1925. (Photo: Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift of 
the A. W. Banfield Estate) 




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Cap, Kongo, Zaire, collected before 1911. Pineapple fibres, leopard teeth, claws. 
Height 12 cm, diameter 18 cm. HA2357. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 



ften displayed on cere- 
monial occasions and 
sometimes on social 
ones as well, chiefly regalia make 
the leader the focus of any public 
event and reminds everyone of 
both the rights and obligations of 
political power. This beautifully 
carved staff was collected by the 
Reverend Walter T. Currie during 
his long missionary career in Cen- 
tral Africa- Currie seems to have 
been attracted to, and perhaps 
was given in large numbers, vari- 
ous sorts of staffs. Some were sim- 
ply part of the formal attire of 
most adult men and are often of 
inferior carving. Others were exe- 
cuted with great skill and imagi- 
nation. This staff was probably 
displayed as an emblem of rank 
or wealth, and may have also 
functioned as an insignia of office. 

Staff, Angola, collected 1886-1910. 
Wood, brass. Length 105 cm. 
HAC594. Gift of Mrs. Walter Thomas 
Currie. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

Detail, side view. 

Prestige items usually exhibit exceptional artistry and are some- 
times made from rare or especially valued materials. Ivory, for 
example, is particularly valued throughout Central Africa. Its use 
in these horns made by the Zande suggests that they belonged to or were 
played for a person of high rank. The transformation of elephant tusks 
into musical instruments was accomplished with great skill. 

Horns, Zande, Zaire, collected before 1926. Ivory, resin, beads. Top to bottom: 
lengths 48 cm, 53 cm. HA973, HA1328. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

"Preparing a Meal, Matadi," a photo- 
graph by the Reverend A. W. Banfield 
taken sometime before 1930. Matadi 
was an important town on the Congo 
(now Zaire) River, and there is much 
evidence here of cultural change. 
Most obvious are the European-style 
clothing and the gun; it is much 
harder to deduce these peoples 
worldview from their material cul- 
ture. (Photo: Department of Ethnol- 
ogy, ROM, gift of the A. W. Banfield 

Museums are often accused of being cultural charnel houses, 
full of the remains of dead civilizations. Sometimes there has 
been an element of truth in the allegation. Primitivism has 
induced a certain predilection among collectors for some mythical culture 
in a pristine state. In the past, ethnographic curators were most con- 
cerned with the difficult task of trying to reconstruct another cultural 
reality through its objects. An uncritical emphasis on traditional culture 
and an aboriginal or precontact past helped promote a picture of an 
unchanging society. 

This is not always an easy situation to correct. The core of the African 
collections at the Royal Ontario Museum is made up of objects amassed 
in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th. As 
such, the collections are historical, and it is impossible even to suggest 
through these objects the complexities of contemporary African life 
at the end of the 20th century. What one can do, however, is realize that 
the life ways of all peoples change; no one lives in a collective state of 
suspended animation. 

Two very creative responses to change can be seen in the objects illus- 
trated here. The Mangbetu or Mamvu pot from Zaire features a woman 
with an elaborate coiffure. These peoples considered an elongated skull a 
sign of beauty, and it was produced by binding the head soon after birth. 
Anthropomorphic vessels of this kind were produced for a very short 
period, beginning about the same time as Belgian colonial rule. The pres- 
ence of Europeans stimulated a demand for particular kinds of objects, 

Pottery vessel, Mangbetu or Mamvu, 
Zaire, collected before 1926. Fired 
clay. Height 24 cm. HA1379. (Photo: 
Santiago Ku) 




A Ngombe elder from Zaire, photo- 
graphed by the Reverend A. W. Ban- 
field sometime before 1930. (Photo: 
Department of Ethnology, ROM, gift 
of the A. W. Banfield Estate) 

including figurative pots. They seem to have functioned not only as pres- 
tige items within Mangbetu society, but also as chiefly gifts to foreigners. 
Some pots may have been commissioned directly by non-Africans from 
artists participating in the growing cash economy in the region. For that 
reason, the person who made this example was most likely a man, 
although women usually made all the household ceramics. The Reverend 
Joseph Blakeney collected this piece sometime before 1926 in the Belgian 
Congo (now Zaire). The Mamvu are part of the large Mangbetu cluster of 
related peoples in this area. 

This Ngala or Ngombe chief's stool, also from Zaire, shows another 
response to social change. Carved with a sure hand, this piece of furniture 
is also a wonderful sculpture. What were mundane brass tacks in 
a European context have taken on a totally unexpected vitality when 
imported and used in an African one. The Reverend T Hope Morgan 
acquired this piece between 1891 and 1911 during his missionary career 
in Central Africa. 

Stool or chair, Ngala or Ngombe, 
Zaire, collected 1891-1911. Wood, 
brass. Height 43 cm. HA3008. 
(Photo: Santiago Ku) 

Many objects are in museums because their exoticism appealed 
to the original collector. The "barbarity" of other people's 
customs, whether alleged, witnessed, or just imagined, was 
often a powerful incentive. By acquiring such an object, collectors could 
concretize a cultural chasm or demonstrate their own unquestioned 
assumption of cultural superiority at the top of some imagined evolution- 
ary hierarchy. 

The original catalogue entry for this headdress states that it was 
"bought from one of the cannibal tribes in the Azumini market." Its collec- 
tor, Jabez Elliott, a Canadian doctor who worked in southern Nigeria in 
1900 and 1901 with an antimalaria expedition, further described it as a 
"warrior's hat." 


Headdress, Igbo(?), Nigeria, collected c. 1900. Fibre cords. Width 25 cm. HA2735. 
Gift of Mrs. Charles P. Holmes. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

8 4 

Museums are sometimes charged with cultural vandalism, rep- 
resented by their collections of decontextualized objects, far 
removed from their original setting and meaning. A corollary 
is the often-voiced fear that to be the focus of the collection process is a 
symptom of cultural decline. To single out particular museums or individ- 
ual collectors is probably unfair. Museums are themselves social institu- 
tions, which cannot be divorced from the historical context in which they 
developed, and their collections occasionally reflect the violence and dis- 
ruptive social forces characterizing the European colonization of Africa. 

John F. Crean's reasons for collecting these goldweights are unknown, 
but he acquired them while in Ghana as a captain in the Gold Coast Regi- 
ment of the West African Frontier Force, during the campaign of 1900 
against the Asante people. Since the 18th century, their kingdom had been 
one of the most powerful of the Akan states. Its economy rested on the 
exploitation of gold, which was the basis for domestic and international 
trade. Taxes, death duties, and fines were also paid in this metal. The 
Asante developed an ingenious weighing system for their gold dust. Based 
on a combination of Islamic and European standards, it used brass 
counterbalances that were often, as here, in geometric form. The brass for 

Goldweights, Asante, Ghana, collected c. igoo. Brass. Clockwise from top left: 
lengths 2.3 cm, 2.8 cm, 2.5 cm, 2.5 cm, 1.2 cm, 1.1 cm, 1.1 cm, 1.9 cm, 1.1 cm, 1.2 
cm, 1.3 cm, 1.3 cm. HA2021, HA2001, HA2020, HA2019, HA2023, HA2015, 
HA2012, HA1997, HA2009, HA2004, HA2000, HA2022. On loan from the Royal 
Canadian Military Institute, Toronto. (Photo: Santiago Ku) 

making the goldweights, which were all cast by the cire perdue method, 
came either from the north across the Sahara or from the southern coast, 
where Europeans imported it in large quantities. 

Crean may have acquired his goldweights from the followers of the 
chief of Bekwae, an Asante ruler who allied himself with the British. Or 
they may have come from Asante who resisted. In any event, a series of 
Anglo-Asante power struggles and wars throughout the 19th century had 
disrupted not only the political system but the economy as well. By the 
end of that century, these goldweights were probably more important as 
curios for sale to soldiers than as part of an active currency system. 


The accidental or serendipitous nature of many museum collec- 
tions is obscured when exhibitions with clearly distinguished 
"storylines" and carefully developed sequences of cases impose a 
unity on a miscellaneous collection of objects. The pipe in the photo- 
graph, for example, might be selected for an exhibition on the culture of 
the Lala people of Zambia, or for one comparing tobacco and smoking 
paraphernalia around the world. Nevertheless, it was not collected for 
those reasons. 

In 1903, while working with the Congregational Church mission in 
Angola, the Reverend Walter T. Currie chose not to go home on furlough, 
but decided to see some of his friends at other missions and to visit Afri- 
can peoples living in the interior. Gone for many months, he travelled 
thousands of miles, eventually reaching Lake Nyasa, crossing through the 
same territories explored by Dr. David Livingstone many years before. 
Currie acquired several pipes, although not as illustrations of an ethno- 
graphic point or as pieces of material culture for examining social prac- 
tices. For him they were a very particular kind of memento, because he 
bought them "from a native close to where Dr. Livingstone died." 

Youth smoking a gourd pipe, proba- 
bly photographed about 1903 by the 
Reverend Walter T. Currie in what is 
now Zambia. (Photo: Department of 
Ethnology, ROM, gift of Mrs. Walter 
Thomas Currie) 


The partiality of museum collections has sometimes promoted 
stereotypes about other cultures of a rather limited nature. This 
has happened to the Zulu people of South Africa. The warrior 
image was an important part of Zulu cultural identity, but the dispropor- 
tionate number of their weapons in museum collections has obscured the 
many other facets of their collective existence. 

While there are several reasons why such a situation evolved, a key 
element was undoubtedly the battle of Isandhlwana in January 1879, 
which made the Zulu one of the best-known and most-feared African 
peoples in the British Empire. A twenty-thousand-strong Zulu army 
annihilated a column of the invasion force, killing hundreds of British sol- 
diers and uncounted numbers of their African allies. This massive defeat 
of white by black sent shock waves throughout the empire. 

Fighting without artillery or cavalry against both African and Euro- 
pean foes, the Zulu employed an attack formation that took the shape of a 
charging bull. The large "horns" were formed by the younger regiments, 
who ran out and encircled the enemy. The "chest," which made the heavy 

"Lord Beresford's Encounter with a 
Zulu." The Illustrated London News, 6 
September 1879. 

No. 2000.— VOL. I.XXV. 


frontal attack, was composed of battle-seasoned warriors. The reserves, or 
"loins," sat with their backs to the battle until called in to finish off what 
remained of their opponents. This style of attack helped the Zulu estab- 
lish and maintain one of the most powerful indigenous states in southern 
Africa. But it was, in the end, ineffective against European entrenched 
positions and gunfire. 

Self-defence was thought cowardly by the Zulu. The shield, while it 
did protect the body, was intended as an offensive weapon for hitting or 
unbalancing the enemy. The white colour of the shield in the photograph 
reveals that it belonged to a married man, a veteran in an older, experi- 
enced regiment. Zulu herdsmen used spears of various sizes and shapes 
when hunting and defending their herds. In battle most men had at least 
two spears, the extras being carried by the young boys who accompanied 
the army with food and sleeping mats. The knobkerrie was a club for 
striking opponents at close range. This particular example came from the 
collection of one of Britain's most well known soldiers, Field Marshal 
Horatio Herbert Kitchener. 

The Zulu reputation as a warrior people probably accounts for the 
large number of their spears, clubs, and shields now filling museum store- 
rooms. Many of the soldiers who fought against and eventually defeated 
the Zulu brought home trophies to celebrate their own survival and vic- 
tory. Later collectors, seeking a vicarious thrill from a quickly romanti- 
cized past, bought uncritically of anything offered for sale as a Zulu 
weapon. These and other "primitive" weapons were often displayed in late 
Victorian homes of the middle and upper classes. This was the next step 
in their transformation from weapon to war trophy to decorative art, and 
finally, to museum exhibit. The objects in the photograph are displayed in 
a typical 19th-century European arrangement. 


Shield, Zulu, South Africa, collected 

before 1909. Hide, wood. Length 

116 cm. HA853. 

Spears, Zulu, South Africa, late 19th 

century. Iron, wood, cane. Lengths 

152 cm, 137 cm. HA34, HA23. 

Knobkerrie, Zulu(?), South Africa, late 

19th century. Wood. Length 60 cm. 

948.1.35. Gift of Lord Kitchener 


(Photo: Santiago Ku) 



88 /% rt critics, scholars, collectors, and curators frequently categorize 

certain objects as primitive art. What were masks, shrine sculp- 
tures, and ancestral figures have been taken from their original 
cultural context and put into another. With emphasis sometimes on their 
aesthetic qualities and at other times on their ethnological content, these 
objects are labelled, displayed, and sold as art forms and artifacts. This 
process can be seen in the history of the Royal Ontario Museums African 
collections. Many of the pieces were first acquired as curios, later as eth- 
nographic specimens, and occasionally, as in this case, as art. 

Made by the Kota people of Gabon, sculptures like the one illustrated 
were intended by their creators as reliquary guardians. They were 
attached to baskets holding the skull or bones of distinguished ancestors. 
Probably grouped together in a shrine, they protected the relics from 
witchcraft and received sacrifices meant to ensure that the villagers lived 
long, healthy, and prosperous lives. 

The oval faces of these figures are usually concave and surrounded by 
sculptural elements, which may represent elaborate coiffures. The copper 
and brass in this piece were the products of European trade. Both rare and 
expensive, they were thus deemed appropriate materials with which to 
honour the ancestors. 

The semiabstract treatment of the human body in these reliquary fig- 
ures made a powerful impact on several European artists who were to 
become part of the modernist movement. By the time this piece was 
offered to the Museum in 1924, it was no longer referred to as an ethno- 
graphic artifact, but very carefully described as African art. Collected by a 
Colonel Georges Frangois Bois, probably a French colonial administrator, 
it was being sold by Auguste Leblond, who was described in Museum 
records as "a prominent art critic in Paris." 

8 9 


Plaque, Edo, Nigeria, 17th century. Leaded brass. Height 43 cm. HA352/1. (Photo: ROM) 

Museums sometimes compete with each other in their acquisi- 91 

tions, and collections often come to resemble each other, as 
certain kinds of artifacts come into fashion. Such has been 
the case with the Benin Bronzes, as they are collectively known. They 
caused a public sensation when first seen in Europe at the very end of the 
19th century. Part of that interest was generated by the spectacular 
circumstances in which the objects were acquired. 

For centuries Benin City had been the capital of one of West Africa's 
most successful precolonial states, when it fell in 1897 to a British punitive 
expedition. Much of the city and the huge wooden palace of the oba, or 
king, was burned. After the capture of the town, several hundred leaded 
brass plaques were removed. Some were later sold by the Admiralty to 
help recoup the costs of the campaign. 

Probably dating from the 17th century, these plaques were originally 
attached to wooden pillars in the palace, where they documented the tri- 
umphs of the oba's empire and illustrated the complexities of daily life at 
his court. The figure on this piece is almost certainly a retainer in that 
court. He wears a headdress or beaded cap and a loincloth, has what may 
be a bell hanging from a sash across his chest, and carries a sword tucked 
under his arm. Four stylized crocodile heads mark the corners of the 
plaque. Symbols of power, they were the favourite sacrifice to Olokun, 
god of the sea. 

The appearance of these objects on the European market was sudden 
and dramatic. Mostly representational in nature, the art was in accordance 
with European tastes of the period. The great skill required to cast the 
plaques was recognized, although it was sometimes erroneously attri- 
buted to non-African craftsmen. Easily understood, the subject matter 
was made more compelling by its exoticism and association with what 
British newspapers reporting on the punitive expedition called the "City 
of Blood." Today the Benin Bronzes are some of the most expensive 
African pieces offered for sale on the international art market. 



By studying the museum as an artifact, reading collections as cultural 
texts, and discovering the life histories of objects, it has become possible 
to understand something of the complexities of cross-cultural encounters. 
In the same process, the intricacies of different cultural configurations are 
revealed in objects through which various African peoples have expressed 
not only their individual artistry but also their deepest communal con- 
cerns. Finally, by placing in context the relationships, however brief, prob- 
lematic, and painful, that developed as Canadian soldiers and 
missionaries travelled into the heart of Africa, it has become clear that the 
past is part of the present. 

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ISBN Q-fiflASM-350-b